I love engaging in feminist critique of popular culture. It’s actually one of my favorite pastimes, because I love feminism and I find pop culture fascinating and fun and entertaining and maddening and disturbing and impossible to ignore. The world of pop culture is accessible to many, it often reflects where we’re at on social issues, and it also suggests where mainstream culture may be changing when it comes to stuff like gender roles and sexual violence. There are so many angles and perspectives and theories and questions that people can bring to a dialogue about any given film or TV show or music video, and this should make for incredibly interesting, complicated, and nuanced discussion. Except when it doesn’t.
I read feminist blogs that make awesome contributions to how we think about pop culture, but do it in a way that suggests that if you and I don’t agree wholeheartedly, we might be stripped of our feminist namesake and cast out of the community without a second thought. I watch my friends shy away from making bold, intelligent critiques in public forums like Facebook because, in their view, they are not on the “feminist bandwagon” and will get bludgeoned by the more popular feminist critiques if they speak up. I witness my significant other crafting careful responses to critiques of video games in the Twitterverse only to be viciously attacked in the name of feminism. People, we can do better than this.
I refuse to engage in a simplistic debate about whether Game of Thrones is good or bad and if choosing to watch it means you are no longer a feminist. I refuse to name-call when someone makes a critique I disagree with, and I most definitely refuse to claim that my feminist view is the only one worth considering. I refuse to hurl insults at people who continue to watch a show even if I personally condemn its violence, and I refuse to make snap judgments that assume I know people’s motivations for remaining committed to consuming a particular art form despite its sexism. Yes, GOT has some pretty horrendous depictions of rape. Yes, it may be triggering for many folks, and no, rape is never, ever ok and yes, I’m sick of its omnipresence in our lives. But I’m not sure that omitting all forms of sexual violence from the script is the best solution. Sometimes its representation—however difficult to witness—can offer audiences opportunities for engagement and reflection that they might never otherwise encounter. I also think every individual should have the right to choose how they want to respond to the sexual violence in GOT. I respect folks who decide they are done and take a public stand based on this position. I respect folks who decide not to watch because it would threaten their emotional health. And I respect those who continue to watch and witness and remain deep within its throes, because they may be the ones offering the feminist arguments that those of us who have opted out cannot.
I’m not saying we should tone down our critiques or sacrifice whatever feminist values we subscribe to. What I am suggesting is that we reconsider the ways we engage in feminist critique, because right now an awful lot of us are pitted against one another. When we hate on each other, we silence one another, and that ain’t what feminism ought to be about. We should be challenging easy arguments and struggling through the complexities and caveats that make discussions about pop culture interesting. We should talk about this stuff without creating casualties, and we should recognize that our antagonism doesn’t exactly make feminism appealing to folks who don’t share our passion for the cause. Cercei Lannister dropped this truth: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” Let’s stop swinging our swords at each other. Feminist engagement shouldn’t be a game of thrones.